Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Ultimate Silly Hat Contest Winner is...

Aretha Franklin. Sorry, Shirley, Brad, and Evan!

Wow, oh wow! We've got a new prez! Rockin'!

A few points I got from watching this exciting and very historic event:

1. No Bailout for Atlantic or Epic

Let's hope that the government doesn't take over the music industry. They do not know how to work a crowd. (I couldn't believe nobody said to the millions of screaming fans "Let me hear you say Hope!" or rile 'em up anyways!)

2. She wasn't much like a beauty queen, or a movie scene

Let's hope the government doesn't take over any beauty pageants. Dianne Feinstein for MC? Really, Gus? Out of two million in attendance? I mean...Let's at least get someone who isn't shriveled, grating, and who has absolutely no sense of humor or personality to introduce my main man, dig?

3. In the question of "who's da man"
The answer is Yo Yo Ma.

4. God gave us humor, so we could laugh at
The main preacher man sounded who like a homophobic Bill Murry. Who put him in there?

5. Some preachers do rock
At least the old guy who gave the benediction had a cool voice, AND he tried to work the crowd with a "say amen!" I really thought the fella was gonna fall over. But he didn't!

6. Legato. Is. Not. Just. For. Steve. Vai.

Connecting phrases is sometimes a good thing, even for a poet.

Despite my sarcasm, it was pretty darn cool. What a neat day.


I found the tone I've been looking for.

Yo Yo Ma has it. I must steal his amp. Did anyone see him play? I was practicing my guitar as I was watching the show, but I put it down when he picked up the cello. For years now, I've been struggling with the dilemma of sound vs. nature. I love how open, pure, and uncluttered the Earth's tone is. The wind can rip, yowl, whisper, and roar. But it's never got lousy tone. Streams can babble, chatter, flow, and rush, but they don't sound cluttered.

Music is beautiful, but it sounds stifling sometimes. I think that some music with birds and frogs in it is lame. I want that pure sound, but with a man-made instrument.

I have never seen it done. Coltrane came pretty close, as did Bird when he played "Summertime."

But the Yo Yo had it! So did his violin playin' pal...oh, what's his name, yeah, Itzhak Perlman! DARN! Those cats had it DOWN! Their sound cut through me like a knife. Or...the wind.

I now know it can be done. So, I'm off to find that sound. That pure, real, merciless, honest, transparent, cold, flowing sound. The tone of a stream fueled by snowmelt in Vermont. The quality of the wind rushing up the side of the Shenendoah mountains to greet you as you stand at the top, as it cleanses the dust of the world from your hair and your mind.

And when I do, I will certainly stand up before the crowd, and say "I can't hear youuuuuuuu!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Football chicks weird me out

Oh yes they do. Not the cheerleaders, silly. The girls who always know more about football than I do. I got to thinking about the time I was in Panera and...Wait, this is a music blog!

Sorry, I get distracted sometimes. Oh look, a chicken!'s wearing a jersey, too. Weird.

But down to business. I was boring one of my students yesterday with a neat latin jazz song called "Oye Como Va." (Santana covers it, too.) My client is a death metal guitarist. So he brings in his axe just outfitted with an EMG 85 and tuned down two steps and what do I do..."Dude, you gotta check out this groove!"

But I always think learning from different styles can only help. Sure, not an in-depth study of 'em if they're not what you're interested in, but just a skimming. One thing I was telling him was that "non-white" music is usually better at hitting the off-beats than us fellas that glow in the dark and wear hats with horns.

So, if you like playing viking metal, great! So do I! Rock on. But checkin' out some ethic grooves can really sharpen your sense of groove and time.

Check out this vid of "Oye Como Va." The changes are Am7 - D9. See if you can nail it.

Rock on! (er....groove on!)

- Josh

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What would Jesus play?

Hey Rockers!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Whew! Sorry I've been so darn quiet. I've been moving! But now I'm sitting in my new studio, with a bowl of pasta, listening to some Van Halen.
So, expect some more blogs!

On a serious note, I just found out that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer today. Talk about her world exploding. Holy smokes. It made me take a minute at the gym, and really appreciate how well my body was functioning. Sure, I didn't bench quite as much as I wanted to, but at least I'm up for trying. My thoughts are with her.

So, with that sense of perspective, things seem a lot clearer for me. These next few months will be a crazy journey, indeed. I think I'm gonna write a song for her.

Whew. Switching gears a bit, we'll take our next question from a fella who we'll just call "Jesus." OK, his name isn't really Jesus, but trust me, it's realllll close. (No, it's not Jimi, either.)

So, J-man dropped me a note, and said:

Dear Mr. Urban,
My name is Jesus and I'm a college student from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. I'd like to interview you through email regarding your expansive knowledge on guitar theory (emphasis mine) and guitar-playing in general. I'm writing a research paper where I am trying to prove that all guitarists should learn music theory on the guitar instead of being limited by only learning tab. You see, I'm also a guitarist and after reading "The Crusade" from ultimate-guitar and learning from them some months ago (and actually still learning), I chose to try and prove theory as a better learning tool when I was faced with the task of choosing my topic for my research paper. Subsequently, I chose you as my interviewee since you were the one who wrote the series of articles where I learned all of my theory and inspired me to write about something relevant to us musicians.
Here are the questions I'd like you to please answer:
1. If there are, what are the advantages of learning through tab?
2. What are the advantages of learning guitar though music theory?
3. What are the disadvantages of learning guitar though music theory?
4. As a professional musician, which of the two do you prefer and why?
5. Most people nowadays begin with tab. If you were to choose the learning method they would begin with, which would you choose and what are your reasons?
I would appreciate any and all reponses you could give to my questions. Thank you again.

Heh...I like that "expansive knowledge" part. Here's my answer:

Where I'm coming from:

I'm a guitar instructor and musician hailing primarily from the American rock school of thought. My style is a mix of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, James Brown, and Charlie Parker.

1. If there are, what are the advantages of learning through tab?

I always teach tab first. I feel that it makes the guitar instantly accessible. Advantages over traditional notation would include: Ease of use, popularity, and the ability to be specific. The guitar has the same notes in multiple places, which is both a blessing and a curse. If the score calls for the E above middle C, a piano player is faced with only one choice, while the guitarist, several. Tab eliminates any confusion in such regard, especially helpful as to which is the most convenient position to play a particular passage in.

2. What are the advantages of learning guitar though music theory?

For me, this is a two part question. The advantages to learning the guitar through traditional notation, or sheet music, is the fact that it's a universal language. If the guitarist wishes to perform a rendition of Beethoven's 9th symphony, and especially likes the viola part - no problem! That music is readily available in viola format, and is easily arranged for guitar. However, the most striking benefit is the ability to efficiently notate rhythms in the music. Tab usually contains no such provisions, and when it does, it's very clumsy. The beat of the song is arguably more important than the notes, and notation contains that mechanism to convey that. If you bury the score in a time capsule, and dig it up hundreds of years later, you can play it note for note! Just think - Mozart didn't have an 8-Track recorder, but we can still play his music exactly as it was intended to be played!

Part two of the question is the theory. If tab and notation are the ways to write the words of music, theory is the grammar, science, and usage of the language. While it's not essential to learn, I've found it extraordinary helpful to my personal quest. I've found it helpful as a compositional guide, a way to take a very educated guess at what scales to use over what chords, and speaking of chords, as a way to understand them better. Instead of being slave to the chord, the theoretician can, through an understanding of the function of the chord, find a place to suit it the best. I like to think of music theory as chemistry. I can randomly mix up chemicals with my chemistry set, and stumble into a glorious explosion, or I can know the formula for TNT. I like to know where to jump off.

4. As a professional musician, which of the two do you prefer and why?

I use, and teach, tab the vast majority of the time. A third way to communicate music has not been mentioned - the chord chart. I use these a lot, too. I'm not as fluent as I'd like to be with my sight reading, so I usually use tab for the rock songs. However, when I want to play a classical or jazz piece, I always prefer the notation. I like to start from the original composition, and work my way out. They're usually written in standard notation.

5. Most people nowadays begin with tab. If you were to choose the learning method they would begin with, which would you choose and what are your reasons?

It would depend entirely on my goal. If I aspired to be a jazz musician, play on a cruise ship, or do session work, I'd go more with notation. For the rock and blues, I'd stick with the tab, while learning notation, too.

On the subject of theory, I consider it not to be essential, but extraordinarily helpful. Theoretical shortcuts have been a waste of time for me. I'd like to compare it to language in general, and speakers in particular. While it is true that not all great grammarians are inspirational public speakers, it is true that most great speakers have a command of their primary language. For me, music theory helps tremendously by: - Knowing how the chords and scales relate in a song - Determining the key of a song - Choosing a scale to use as a jumping point for a solo - Compositional means - Understanding different styles and sounds.

However, it's just one means to an end. My favorite guitarist ever, Stevie Ray Vaughan, didn't know theory. I know more than he did in that regards, but compared to him, I'm lousy! It's just a tool that I've found helpful.

- Josh

Free Shipping on Orders Over $99!

Free Shipping on Orders Over $99!